Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their audience, built their audience, , how they built their businesses for an audience of entrepreneurs. Joining me is somebody who listened and he’s a guy who’s an artist himself.
Did you ever have William see yourself as, as a business person growing up?
William: you know, I never did. I am a creative turned entrepreneur. Um, so I never imagined I’d be doing this business thing, but I’m glad to be doing it. And, uh, enjoying finding a way to integrate my creative skill into this world of business.
Andrew: William Warren, whose voice you just heard is somebody who’d been sketching, designing, drawing for forever. And he had this brilliant idea. He said, you know, you go to conferences and every fricking speakers got PowerPoint. And now the new thing of course is keynote. And you might have variations on that, but essentially it’s all the same.
And he said, you know, My sketches are way more interesting people actually at my company. Like it, I think, I think this could be a business and he did turn it into a business. So you were able to go to a conference and if that conference hired his business, it’s called the sketch effect. You could see a real artist sketching, the, the notes, uh, from the meeting, from the presentations.
In real time and get something that for many people is much more, not just interesting, but much more useful because a lot of people don’t learn in a linear way. They just want to see things creatively and bounce around from idea to idea. And anyway, that’s what the sketch effect, the loud, the thing was going gangbusters.
Finally, this artist created a business and it was working and then COVID hits and obviously, uh, it conferences got shut down and. He came up with another idea. First, you suffered for a little bit. Let’s not minimize it, but then he said, you know what? If we go online, I invited him here to talk about how he went from being creative, to being a business owner, startup entrepreneur, to then how he turned things around when the world threw him a curve ball.
And we can find out about how the sketch effect did all that. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re building a website, you need to know about, well, you know about WordPress, but you should know that you can host it on HostGator and do it really quickly. And I’ll tell you later why you should go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
And the second is a tool that I think William, you might want to sign up for. It’s called outgrow. I’m going to pitch you on it within the interview and feel free to say no, I don’t want to use them or yes, I do. Or I’m curious, we’ll talk about how outgrow can help you and others who are listening, grow their sales.
William. Good to have you here.
William: Hey, this is great. Thanks Andrew. Appreciate it.
Andrew: Can you talk about what your revenue is right now?
William: Sure. Yeah. So we’re a seven figure business. We reached that milestone in 2019. Um, and just like you alluded to 2020 was exceptionally disruptive. Um, and we will not sugarcoat that. Um, So we had a hard year, last year, as many people did, uh, across the country, especially companies that work in live events.
Um, but as you alluded to, we can, we can have this conversation. I love to tell the story. We did make a pivot. It was a big pivot and it took a while to really see the fruits of that. But we’re having an incredible, um, 2021 so far, uh, quarter four last year was our best quarter in company history. So 20, 20 exceptionally disruptive, but we’re riding the momentum and had a great end of the year and excited to start this year strong.
Andrew: Before all this, you were a Chick-Filet and in meetings you started to sketch how.
William: right. So if you’re, if you rewind my story back before the sketch effect, I worked in corporate marketing at Chick-fil-A corporate here in Atlanta, Georgia, which, uh, is the third highest grossing, um, fast food chain in the country now. Um, a really amazing product, amazing brand. Um, and I was working with an amazing team, uh, doing marketing and, um, social media, marketing, email marketing, things like that.
Now for me, like I mentioned, I am a creative at heart. I always loved to sketch and draw. Uh, that was my first love. I was always doing comics growing up cartoons.
Andrew: You mean making your own comics?
William: Correct. Making my own comics for the school newspaper a little bit freelance on the side. And.
Andrew: proud of looking back at your, at your childhood or one that you feel was pivotal?
William: No, it’s hard to pick one particular year, but my dad introduced me to Calvin and Hobbes when I was six years old. If your listeners do not know what Calvin Hobbes is, they need to stop immediately. We’ll actually stop after listening to this podcast and then go pick up Calvin and Hobbes. Cause it is incredible form of a.
Art literature. So that was a, a, that was a pivotal moment. And then also in college, I won the Charles Schultz award, which seems like ages ago. Uh, but that was a pretty
Andrew: For doing? What, what did you do?
William: uh, uh, had a comic strip for my college newspaper. And so, um,
Andrew: Do you remember what the comic strip was? That one.
William: I did, it was called and it was about a oafish college student and his nerdy bookish roommate and all of the miscellaneous adventures.
They went on, uh, in college. So that was, uh, that was quite an honor, you know?
Andrew: Okay. So then bring me back to Chick-fil-A you’re sitting in meetings and what are you doing?
William: So fast forward to Chick-fil-A, I’m sitting in lots of meetings. Um, and in order for me to have a creative outlet, um, I started to sketch during meetings. And for me, this was just a fun thing that I could do to, uh, stay engaged.
And, um, you know, if the meeting was a little bit less than exciting and riveting, it kept me awake. Um, but I would just have my notebook out in front of me, a tangent. Uh, a physical notebook and I would sketch out my notes. Um, and for me, like I said, this was just a creative outlet, something I could do to, uh, kind of exercise the creative part of my soul while working this corporate job.
Andrew: How would we describe these sketches? Because it’s a type of sketching and note-taking that I’ve seen. And I know it when I see it, but I don’t know how to describe it beyond saying it takes. Key ideas and writes them in text. It takes some ideas and visualizes them by drawing them. And then it connects everything on one piece of paper almost so that you could see all the ideas at once.
But if you zoom in on a picture or text, you get one piece of it. One message at a time, if you want to, am I right?
William: Correct. Yeah, there’s a lot of terms for it. A sketch notes is pretty common. Uh, visual note-taking, uh, graphic recording is sort of the industry term that we do now with the sketch effect. But the essence is all about, it’s all about synthesis. It’s about taking ideas from a meeting, synthesizing them down to their core, you know, the core version of that idea.
Also filtering out the kind of fluffy. Stuff on the side, that’s not as essential. And then capturing that through a combination of text and images, and that combination is important and we can get into this if you want, because it taps into this idea of visual learning. So everybody learns in different ways.
The most powerful channel of learning is actually visual. So people learn better when they can see what they’re learning. So taking sketch notes, combines the verbal and visual learning into one powerful, uh, supercharged learning experience.
Andrew: I have to say for me, it’s interesting. And I like being able to zoom out with, you know, not physic, not to just zoom out with my eyes and then zoom in by focusing on something and looking. I don’t take notes well, that way, and I don’t use notes while that way I’m such a linear person that I do like to see top to bottom.
Step-by-step written out for you. Were you doing this for fun because you just needed something to do to move your fingers around, to, you know, to draw or were you actually learning better and remembering better by adding images by connecting, uh, each idea to another nonlinear. Non-linearly.
William: Yeah, you nailed it. So I realized that I was actually learning better. I was more engaged in the meetings. I was processing the ideas of comprehending them better. Um, the evolution really began in high school when I would take very linear notes, just line by line, by line, and then I would sketch or doodle in the margins mostly because there was just blank space in the margin.
So I’d fill the margins with little doodles. Um, I would draw maps and it was a history class. Maybe I would draw the map of where these, you know, Ancient empires were or whatever. Um, and, uh, so yeah, that’s how I used to do it. And then in this corporate, uh, in my corporate life, I started to get a little bit looser with it, kind of break out of the lined kind of framework and start to draw, um, kind of outside of the lines, if you will allow me the, um, outside the box.
Yeah. Allow me the cliche. Um, but what I learned was, yes, the learning experience was enhanced. Uh, I took away more out of the meetings, um, helped me learn better and they were more fun to look at after the fact. I mean, Andrew, when was the last time you would look back at your notes from a meeting?
Probably very rarely, unless it was very important meeting, but with sketch notes, they’re actually a fun visual deliverable that are, that’s fun to look at after the
Andrew: Uh, yeah, you’re just almost sometimes appreciating it for the art and reconnecting with what you learned in the experience, just by seeing the image of it. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org. Okay. So you were doing this at what point do you go from doing it in your own personal notebook to putting it up on.
Uh, on a screen or something for people to see,
William: So that’s when the magic really started to happen. Um, my team around me saw what I was doing and they were interested in it. They thought it was cool. They thought it was fun. Um, soon they would ask me to, to hop up on the whiteboard and actually do this sketching thing corporately, like for the, for the whole team.
Andrew: you mean, you’d have a meeting and somebody would say, Hey William, can you go and do that sketching thing that you do up for all of us to see? Got it. Okay.
William: Yeah. Or like, Hey, Hey William, do this really cool thing in his notebook. Can you draw it up on the whiteboard? So everyone else can see it. Um, if I had a presentation to give, I might sketch out my concepts, scan them in and put them into a PowerPoint deck. Um, and, uh, yeah, so what I realized is that the people around me found value in this.
It, it, wasn’t just a creative outlet for me, but it’s actually helping the people around me. Have better, more effective meetings, uh, more enjoyable meetings and then have visual takeaways, you know, in those early days, whatever I’d put on the whiteboard, we would just photograph it. And then that would be the output from the meeting, um, which is a really cool thing to show your boss, to show them tangibly, look at all the, we accomplished, look at this amazing drawing of all that we worked through and hashed out together as a team.
So that’s really when the switch turned is when the people around me, um, Uh, saw the value and we’re asking you to do more and more of it.
Andrew: From what I understand, even they would ask you to come into meetings that you weren’t a part of just to contribute this, the visual element. Right.
William: Exactly. Exactly. I had people from other departments who I barely knew who said, Hey William, you’re the guy in marketing that can draw, right? Can you come to our meeting? Can you come to this, you know, supply chain meeting or this financial meeting or this HR
Andrew: And just
William: know, totally outside of my department.
Yep. Help us explain this. Help us document this better help. Make this meeting a more effective meeting experience for
Andrew: And then people outside of Chick-fil-A or asking you to do this too. Okay. Did you, then at that point, say I’m going to quit and do this as a job, or what did you do?
William: So the idea had started to germinate in my brain for a few months that there could potentially be a business here, but you’re right. It really wasn’t until people outside of the organization said, I want you to come do that for me. And I’m going to give you money to do it. I might even put you on a plane to fly to our meeting and do it.
And I, and that’s when that’s when the light bulb really went off and I thought this could be a viable business model. I’d already prototyped it in the, you know, within the context of my job at Chick-fil-A, but then now people were actually willing to, to validate it in the form of paying me money for it.
Andrew: about you through a friend of a friend and wanted to pay you to do this.
William: Yeah, full of different, kind of a serendipitous moments that happened where people were exposed to it and got my contact information and reached out. Um, there were, there were handful of conferences in the early days where, um, You know, someone reached out and said, I want to fly into new Orleans, or I want to fly you to Orlando to do this or to Dallas.
And a few of those really gave me the courage to quit my job and to make this a business. Um, so yeah, it really was those early kind of outside voices that were encouraging me. And then of course, offering to pay, uh, that was the impetus to make the plunge and leave, leave my job.
Andrew: Okay. So, uh, you start getting some work doing that beyond referrals in the early days. How did you get customers to pay you to come out and do this for their meetings and events?
William: sure. So, um, I began the sketchbook business with two really great clients. One was actually Chick-fil-A. So I was able to leave in a way that preserve the relationship and actually come back the next day as a vendor, which was really cool. Um, I took, I took my tie off. Went home the next day I came back wearing jeans and no tie, and I was working for myself, um, and doing basically what I had been doing for Chick-fil-A, but now working for myself.
Um, so that was our first client and incredible client to start off with. So super grateful to begin with a, um, A really great brand, a really great client. And the other one was the church that my wife and I attend here in Atlanta, which is a pretty big church. And they were able to send me some work too.
So between those two clients were just starting to spread and we did very little marketing, very little outbound sales in the early days. Um, our product has the built-in. Mar has built in marketing value in that it is visual by nature. We basically show up at meetings, show up at corporate offices and produce a giant billboard advertising our service, um,
Andrew: And you were doing
William: every, not every, yeah, go
Andrew: everyone gets to do it. You were doing this one on a big whiteboard at the, at the events.
William: Whiteboards, uh, chalkboards,
Andrew: Whatever they had. And it was you personally doing it, William.
William: I was personally there. Um, I remember, I remember the very first paid event was this event in Dallas and I I’ve vastly underrated estimate how much work it would be. And I ended up doing seven working like 17 or 18 hours on that first day, because I didn’t at the time I had a hard time scoping what I was doing then we’ve, you know, we’ve worked through that now, but, um, but yeah, it was physically me.
I was physically there. There were days when I’d be working so hard. I wouldn’t be eating any food throughout the day, which I don’t recommend, but, um,
Andrew: And when you’re saying 17 hours, was it 17 hours of people watching you as you sketch?
William: half of that was people watching and then half of it was kind of cleaning up and polishing the finished deliverable and packaging it and making it available to the client.
Andrew: So that everyone, after the event gets this, I guess, PDF or print out that they could remember the events notes from. Got it. All right. Um, let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor. My first sponsor is a company called HostGator for hosting a WordPress websites. You created your own personal website.
What is it? William C warren.com.
William: Correct? Yep. William C warren.com. It’s a, it’s a brand new website for creative entrepreneurs. Um, anyone who has a creative dream to turn their passion into a business, uh, that’s sort of a platform that I’ve put together for business advice and pretty simple, no nonsense, uh, you know,
Andrew: It looks great. Why did you do it on WordPress?
William: I like where press a lot, because it is very easy to edit. I’m not a web designer, but I know enough to be dangerous so I can go in, I can update the blog. I can update the illustrations. Um, every illustration you see on there is done by me, which is a lot of fun. It’s again, a creative outlet. Now that I’m in more of a CEO role Sketchfab, this has been kind of a fun new outlet for me.
Um, but yeah, it’s easy to edit, easy to make changes. Um, very modular, very versatile. Um, that’s
Andrew: you could collect leads. You can let people hire you for speaking engagements. You can update your blog posts. Um, which one of the things that I like about your blog is that, um, you’ve got sketches at the top of, is it every single entry in here?
William: Yep. Every, every blog entry has a unique illustration for it.
Andrew: Yeah, you don’t just say I, um, I was scared of business when I was in art school. You have a picture of a little old you with an arrow pointing to it, saying me in art school and then a picture of a giant monster that you’re facing with an arrow pointing toward that says business immediately. I understand them how you’re feeling, and it just also adds a touch of personality to every one of your posts.
Anyway. William did it on a WordPress. WordPress is easy. It’s versatile. It expands easily. You can take it from hosting a company to hosting company, and you could do so much with it. All you have to do. If you want to get started with your own WordPress website is go to hostgator.com/mixergy. When you go to that URL, you’ll get the absolute, lowest price that they have.
And frankly, they’re already super low price. And. You’ll get an even lower price from them. If you use that URL and you’ll get great service from them, that will scale with you. Our business started off with a really cheap, uh, cheap. They hate when I say inexpensive, it didn’t cost much. It just did the thing.
And then when we started scaling up and scaling up and getting more traffic, we switched over to, uh, a bigger, more robust package of so many packages, but just get started and grow. And if you don’t like them, you could always move away. Cause it’s WordPress. It’s yours. hostgator.com/mixergy, hostgator.com/mixergy.
You always would at the latest ones that I’ve seen and you guys have great, uh, images on your site, the latest sketches have your domain on them. I’m assuming you did that pretty early on so that every handout had your, your company’s name on it, right?
William: Correct. Yeah. Standard for us is to include a, we really consider it like a signature because our work is very creative, it’s artistic, and any, any artist with sign their work. So all our work. We include a little sketch effect logo on there. Um, yeah, a little bit of information about where people can find us and most people don’t mind that it’s fine.
Um, and like I said, that that kinda has built in marketing value in that the images are shared, they’re spread around people, see it, and then they’re able to find out who did that. And that’s when they reach out to us, um, and become a new lead.
Andrew: How was it to hire somebody and then place somebody in a position where you have to fly them out. And for some reason they don’t show up or they get sick. You’re stuck. That seems like a really tough position to hire for.
William: Yeah, thankfully, we haven’t had too many issues like that. I actually was the first one in our business to actually show up at an event and then get sick. I don’t think it’s happened since it’s only happened once. Hopefully won’t happen again, but that’s been one of the biggest hurdles for us as a business, as we scale up is finding, um, finding talented people that can provide this service.
Uh, I like to joke that we’re looking for unicorns because we’re looking for people that have. A base level of artistic ability. Um, you know, they can draw, they can draw quickly also they’re good listeners. So they’re able to attend a meeting. They’re able to listen to what they’re hearing and synthesize.
So they’re good listeners. Um, three, they are, you know, freelancers. Contractors. They have flexible work schedules, take jobs when they want them. And then for they’re good with people. Um, because the work we do is very intimate. We’re showing up in people’s meetings, we’re working very closely with the client.
So we want to ensure that we are putting, uh, sending out artists that embody our culture, that they’re fun to work with. They’re they’re easy to work with. Um, and. Even though they are unicorns and we have found, uh, several, we’ve got a team of eight or nine artists. They’re incredible. They do amazing work.
And, um, yeah, it’s just a pleasure to work alongside them. And we all learn from each other too. You know, we all learn from each other’s creative ability kind of techniques we’re using. And it’s, uh, it’s a lot of fun.
Andrew: What’s the test that you give an artist to see if they’ve got everything that you need in order to work with you.
William: Applicants perform a listening test. And it sounds intense is, and that’s by design. So we will send, uh, actually links to Ted talks or. YouTube, you know, keynote presentations and we will have, um, it’s a timed test. So we give them a time slot. Um, we have them listen to that and draw it in real time, capturing what they’re capture, what they’re drawing and then send it to us within a time limit.
Um, and what we do is we use that to vet their ability to listen well, so we go line by line. We’ve already pre-vetted this talk or this. This, this Ted talk. So we already know what the key ideas are and we go line by line to see if they, if they got it. Cause if they, if they, if they produce great art, but the ideas are not solid, then it’s not going to be an effective final deliverable.
Um, so even if the art’s great, uh, but their ideas are not good, then that’s when the hiring process ends. Um, so yeah, that’s, that’s the test.
Andrew: I’ve had issues with producers who are really good at listening, really good at asking questions, but if they don’t know a topic, like if they don’t know what a SPAC is and they don’t know to ask about where, what a rolling fund is and assume that they need to know it or that it doesn’t matter. The whole thing stinks.
D how do you, I’ve seen some of your work where your artists will, will skate, uh, Bitcoin, something or other, and if they don’t understand what cryptocurrency is, how can they sketch it out? How are you, how are you making sure that they know they know the topic well enough to write about it for people.
William: That is probably the most common question we get asked by prospective clients, they’ll say, Hey, we’re in a really, um, Niche industry or our, you know, our, our company is very complicated or this meeting is very complex. And, um, we actually love those types of meetings. We actually think those types of meetings are where this live sketching thing is, is, is of most value.
Um, because these types of meetings are really dry. They’re normally very, you know, uh, Uh, caught up in the details and we provide the antithesis of that, uh, which is creative and visual and fun to answer your question though. Um, all of our artists, there’s two things we do. One is we trust in our artist’s ability to listen effectively.
Even if you aren’t a subject matter, not a subject matter expert, you can still listen effectively and glean certain big ideas from that. Discussion. Um, you can, at least at the very bare minimum assess emotion assess, uh, what’s important. What’s not important. What resonates with the group, uh, what doesn’t resonate.
Um, and you can typically pull out high-level ideas. And like I said, at the beginning of our interview, we’re really about the. Big picture we’re about the high level ideas, not so much the nitty-gritty minutiae. Um, but that’s the second thing we do is actually part of our operational process, which is before all of our events, we do have a pre event call with our clients and we cover those things.
We say, Hey, are there going to be any big insider terminology pres meeting that RSTs and no. Are there any acronyms that are going to be used in this meeting that our artists needs to know? Are there any insider, um, you know, even like. Not like hot buttons are kind of re things that we don’t want to even touch.
Like we asked for our clients to equip us with that on the front end. So the artists at least have a base has a baseline level of knowledge going into it.
Andrew: Got it. And is it you doing it or is it I’m guessing it’s the artists themselves, right. Who are making those phone
William: doing, doing what?
Andrew: who are having the phone
William: Uh, so we have an
Andrew: and understanding.
William: Yeah. So we have an operations team here at the sketch of X and they will schedule that call with someone from our operations team and also the artist. So there’ll be two people from the sketch effect, uh, on the phone with a client and whatever key stakeholders need to be on that call.
Andrew: How did you start to operationalize that, that the systems behind a business are. I feel like the magic of whether this happens continuously or whether you just happened to luck into it or not. It took me forever to figure out the process of having a pre-interview of having the right research done for a guest of making sure that we fix things when they’re not making sure that you have a mic.
If you don’t, if you don’t already own one, talk about how you systemized it.
William: So it’s a work in progress. Um, in the early days it was just me. Um, and I was not very good at it. I tried my hardest, but, uh, you know, tried to make it, um, something of a process. I read a couple of really great books, like the E-Myth and built a sell on a few of these kind of entrepreneurial, uh, uh, guidebooks.
And they, you know, always pushed process, process, process. Everything needs to have a process. So. From the beginning. I knew I needed it. I wasn’t very good at it. Um, it really wasn’t until I started to hire our first operational team members that were really wired for that, where it really started to the magic started happening and things started to pop.
Um, you know, that’s one of my, one of my lessons from my entrepreneurial journey is to identify what I’m not great at and then hire people who are great at it and get out of the way, um, you know, set them. Off on the right vision and direction with the right purpose, but let them do what they’re great at and trust them.
So, yeah, we made a couple key hires.
Andrew: You hired someone whose whole job is to run operations, by the way, I’m looking at your face as I’m talking, is my mic cutting in and out for you or something. Uh, I know I, I interrupt sometimes that I want to make sure that we get everything in. So it’s, um, W you hired a COO early on to manage the operations.
Is that right?
William: So it might, the first operational hire was actually an operations coordinator and she’s still with us today. Her name is Maggie. She does an incredible job shout out to Meg. Um, but, uh, but yeah, so her whole job in the beginning was to just run our projects. Um, and over time, you know, we have worked together and now she’s actually my executive vice-president I’m.
So over everything, operations, everything related to the delivery of our product, the delivery of our service, um, And yeah, that was, and then we’ve had a few other, we have other operations folks on our team as well, other coordinators and administrators, and that’s been so critical to have people on the team that are wired that way, that think more about the project.
Um, I’m a visionary, I’m a classic creative, visionary. I love new ideas. I love thinking about the future and where we’re going. Um, but having these people on our business that are really involved, they really. Concerned about today to make sure today is a big win is so critical because if it were just me, it would be off chasing a bunch of crazy things and probably not, uh, being a great client or not a great vendor to our clients.
Andrew: Are you doing to systemize? What is it? Is it, is it some software that you’re using to run your team? Something like train UIL. Is it.
William: so we have a couple of systems specifically for operations. We use a platform called teamwork. It’s sort of a, it’s like Slack. It’s like, it’s one of these platforms where you can, um, like Trello, uh, other things
Andrew: management software with
William: Project management software with chat and you can upload files. You can do all that.
Um, so that’s the main thing we use for our projects. Um, personally, um, all of our team uses a software called Omni focus, which is fantastic. And that’s how we do personal productivity to make sure that we’re. Stay on top of our task and making sure that we’re doing everything that we need to do and have committed to do.
Um, for our creatives. That’s, that’s been a bigger hurdle, is to come up with process for the creative side of what we do, because you know, our product is creative. It’s produced by human beings. And so we’ve had to figure out ways to, um, to codify certain things, make things standard. Um, so things like color palette, how we pick colors, how we lay out a canvas, um, how we, uh, which icons we use, um, how we do fonts, how we do titles.
So we try to standardize as much of the creative process as possible. So that. Like a style guide. Exactly. Um, so we basically create parameters for artists to play in, but then within those parameters, they can, they have total freedom to draw and sketch when they want and color and how they want to. But, um, we try to keep it as enough of it’s standardized.
So the product’s consistent from artists, artists.
Andrew: I feel like that would be one of the hardest things to tell an artist you’ve got to use this font. You’ve got to lay it out in this way. Had how were they with that?
William: So believe it or not, um, Limitations are actually very good for the creative process. Sometimes if you have too many choices, it creates decision paralysis. And so our artists actually like the fact that there are some limitations in place because it reduces some of the decision-making they have to make on the fly.
And with our work being live in real time in these meetings and events, they have to work quickly. They have to work fast. So. The more we can mitigate the decisions they have to make. The more we can cut down the choices they have to make in the moment their work’s going to be better. They’re going to be faster and they’re gonna have more fun doing it.
Andrew: All right. So you started the business in, when was this? You started 2019.
Andrew: 2013. Okay. We’ve got the wrong date on this. So 2013 you start, the business. Things are growing 2019 is your best year yet. Right. And then 2020 hits just when you’ve nailed all these conferences. Do you remember the day when you knew that everything was falling apart?
William: Um, I remember the week vividly. We, you know, I wasn’t in a denial for a while. Um, as our clients started to cancel their events. I remember the very first one was an event in Seattle. Um, and if you remember, the COVID epidemic really kind of took root on the West coast at first up in kind of the, that area.
And we had a client event. We had a client pull out. This was weeks before, and at the time I thought. What are they thinking? This is ridiculous. They’re canceling their, they’re canceling their whole event. And they’re going to fly people around the world to there’s a vendor canceling it. So for me, I thought, Oh, this is just a one-off, you know, whatever.
And then one by one, the dominoes started to fall. As events got canceled, left, and right. Not only events that were actually on our calendar already booked, but we had a lot of events in the, in the pipeline that were, you know, about to confirm or about the book. And then one by one, those all fell away too.
So almost overnight we lost. A huge revenue stream. Um, and the disruption actually was not limited to just live events. Um, our other core service, which we haven’t talked about too much on this view is action. So we produced animated videos, mostly internal communication, explainer videos. We do some sales and marketing and training videos.
Andrew: businesses will hire you to create an animated explainer video to explain to their team how something works.
Andrew: Wow. Okay.
William: yeah. New health insurance policy, instead of reading this boring, you know, 10 page document, watch this two page or watch this two minute video and
Andrew: Damn dude. That’s so freaking smart for a company to say we care that our people understand it it’s, it doesn’t cost that much. What would it cost to do that? To say we have a new policy around health insurance. You need to understand this here’s a five minute video. What would it cost for you guys to do that?
William: Yeah. So we try to videos would be somewhere in the six to 10 K range. Um, so, you know, um, and it depends on style depends on length. Um, but we try to be in that sweet spot, which we found is pretty good for most corporate budgets. It’s not gonna break the bank. Um, but it’s also not, um, you know, some cheap video, you can get online for $50 on Fiverr, which is going to be garbage.
Andrew: know what, yeah. There’s apps now that do this really well and not really well, they do this really quickly, but you can kind of see that it’s a fake hand drawing. And, but on your homepage, I think the explanation for how you work is using one of those, isn’t it
William: Yeah, the difference is that it’s not fake. It’s a real hand and we have
Andrew: a real hand doing it on your
William: It is. Yeah, it is. Um, it’s a real hand. Uh, the other difference is that all the artwork is custom. It’s all created for the client and not for any other clients. So a lot of these, um, you know, more. Cheaper. I call them cheap because they are cheap, the cheaper competitors they’re using stock images.
So your video is going to be, there’s going to look just like anyone else’s video. It’s not going to have any character, personality or a uniqueness to it. Um, we also custom write the script, all the scripts for our clients, um, you know, with their message in mind. So we use a storytelling framework, um, to make it.
You know, drive towards their, their goals, their results. Um, a lot of these apps that you mentioned are software. They make the client do all the work themselves, so they don’t have to write the script. They have to find the voiceover, they have to do the visual concept, conceptual work. We do all that for our clients.
Andrew: I, you know, I think I understand it’s a real artist drawing it, but in some cases we’re seeing an animated hand on top of their drawing to show that it’s being driven. But it’s, that’s not real. It’s got it. I, it’s hard to explain here, but I
William: Yeah. It’s a little, yeah, we’re getting into the weeds here, but yeah, we can do an animated version of the artist’s hand or real filmed artist’s hand. Um, but yeah, so going back to COVID so a lot of our, uh, really big reliable clients, for example, Chick-fil-A. Um, we’d done work in the hotel industry, airline industry, a lot of these clients when COVID hit, they pulled back dramatically almost overnight.
So not only did we see an impact to our live events, the live sketching. We also saw a huge impact to our animation business as well. So in mid-March our revenue streams. Almost vanished completely. Uh, I think the actual number was somewhere on 80% drop is, uh, what we saw revenue wise in March, April and may.
Andrew: If you have largely contractors, what, what, what are you worried about?
William: So we have a combination of full-time team and contractors. So we actually have about nine full-time employees. Um, they’re both creatives and administrators and operations folks and sales folks. Um, so we do have a full-time team here based in Atlanta where, um, our home, our home offices, but then we do have the contractors in our, in our network as well.
Um, so yeah, for me, I was worried about making payroll. I was worried about. Keeping the lights on. I was worried about paying myself. Um, there were a lot of thoughts going through on my, I was worrying about this, having long-term detrimental impact to our industry, um, to our clients never recovering and then never hiring us again.
So yeah, there were a lot of thoughts in my mind, and that was a really, it was a really difficult season. Uh, those the spring and early summer for us.
Andrew: Did you start thinking about maybe getting a job, closing it up.
William: It never got that drastic. Um, but dif I did think about what does it mean if we have to lay off half our team, what does it mean? If we have to. Close down our office. What does it mean if we have to, um, you know, go back to where we were four years ago, five years ago in terms of revenue. Um, so yeah, those were pretty, you know, in my mind, I thought, okay, here, come here, seven years of my life, about to vanish.
Um, so, so yeah, pretty, pretty, uh, pretty dramatic, uh, season for me as, as, as a leader, uh, you know, as, as, as the head of our team,
Andrew: All right. I’m going to come back in a moment and ask you where the idea came from. Um, but let me talk about my first, my second sponsor. It’s called outgrow. And I want to show you how you can use this. I imagine that a lot of people like me who are considering this, who might, who think it might make sense?
Like for me, if I do a webinar. Maybe it’s interesting for me to have instead of keynote presentation that I have to spend hours putting together and people are going to feel like it’s just sustainable thing. They’ve seen it anywhere else. Maybe I should be hiring one of your artists. Do it. I don’t know what it costs.
I don’t know if it’s a right fit for me. I might bother you guys with a call or an email or something, or maybe I just won’t bother doing it and go or something else because I I’m just not going to wait for a response. Well, imagine if. You have a calculator on your site that lets me personally see how much it would cost to have a sketch done.
And we could see the full price range. I just come to your site. Maybe it would be the sketch effect.com/calculator or, or maybe it’s a whole its own domain. What does it cost to have a live sketch.dot com? Whatever it is. Where I can say, is this virtual or, or in person, is this something that I want a hand for?
Or do I want a digital hand or do I want no hand to show the art? How long is it going to be? Bapapapapa I hit submit. Not before I give you my email address. And then I hit submit, and then I get an estimate at that point. What you get is your team now knows who’s qualified and who actually has enough of a budget that they are interested in this and who doesn’t.
And then they get their price and goes on and then move on. I have something I could pass around to people within my company and say, you know what, maybe this is a good fit. I was thinking about this for a full day event. But if you go to the calculator can see what it works, what it looks like for one day.
And it’s a useful tool for people that shows them what’s possible that shows them what it costs, but also for you collect contact information. I said, email address that you might want to do. Email address and phone number of the people who are really interested. And then you can follow up with the ones who are, what do you think of that?
William: I think it’s a cool idea. Yeah. Yeah. I think we’re always looking for ways to innovate the process and make it easier for clients. So that’s, that’s kind of the filter we would go through. Is, does this make the client experience easier? Does this make our team’s experience easier? If it cuts down on the grunt work then?
Yeah, it’s definitely something we would consider adding to our, uh, adding to our portfolio of, of packages or softwares.
Andrew: Because I think the way it works right now is if I’m interested before I get a price or anything, I fill out the contact form. Right? Yeah. All right. If you want to get started with that, or frankly, if anyone out there is listening and they want to get started with a calculator like this, all you have to do is go to outgrow.com, no outgrow.co outgrow dot C O.
Slash Mixergy. And when you do, they’re going to give you 30 days for free to use this software to see how well it does to see how effective it is for you can do calculators, quizzes, chatbots, the whole thing, e-commerce recommendations, polls. It really is this thing that will think, and then produce for your people.
So it’s so intelligent, so smart, so useful that they’ll just use it as a tool. And by the way, you’ll start to accumulate. Um, leads and eventually orders from this it’s outgrow.com/mixergy outgrow O U T G R O w.co/mixergy. You got a great domain by the way, with the sketch effect.com for yourselves.
Andrew: So where did the idea come from to go virtual?
William: Yeah. So the secret is that this virtual version of our product actually was not new. So we’ve actually already done this before. Um, in the past we had sketched virtually for webinars for virtual meetings. Um, it was always sort of a peripheral thing. It was never a core, it was never a core offering, never a core product.
Um, so we actually already had the technology in place. We knew how to, we knew how it. Functioned operationally, technically, um, in 2019 we made the investment of equipping our entire team with iPads, uh, to do digital sketching, which I didn’t realize at the time would become so, so critical in 2020, because now all of our work is on iPads.
Andrew: What was it? Um, what was it for? What was your idea when you were getting them all? I-pads including contractors. Weren’t full-time with you.
William: Yeah, the idea was that people wanted to see a different version of our work. So they had seen the paper and markers. They’d seen the whiteboard, they’d seen the product, uh, the, the, the chalkboard. Um, but we wanted to provide a digital option. And digital is really fascinating because. From an artist standpoint, there’s more functionality they can do with the digital medium.
They can, uh, you know, pick a really great color palette. They can make edits on the fly. There’s a lot of things they can do digitally that they can’t do traditionally with markers on paper. So that’s one thing. Um, two, it gives the client more, um, options so they can stream, you know, with an in-person event, they could have the digital artists there and they can stream their sketch to monitors in the room or out into the lobby.
Or to, uh, online, you know, for folks that weren’t there physically. So for us in 2019, it was just a, a way to diversify our offerings to our clients is just say, Hey, we have this digital version of what we do. And then the whole virtual thing was just kind of a peripheral option. We can give our clients, so it wasn’t officially a new product, but the way we went about launching it, we treated it like a brand new product.
We, we created marketing materials. We, you know, we launched a new website. We let all of our clients know that we were doing this. We, uh, you know, uh, began to work on the processes for like, how do we do a virtual event? How do we learn about. Zooms and webinars and go to meetings and all these platforms.
Um, so we did all of that in a matter of days. I remember, um, you know, get my team in here. We got a film crew in we’re like, what’s going on? Is this COVID thing happening? Should we wear masks right now? Like it was that, you know, nobody really knew what was going on, but we filmed the video overnight. We got up.
Um, and uh, we started to sell it. We started marketing and promote it. And, um, so yeah, technically not officially a new thing, but the way we went about it was very new. I mean, it became overnight our, our core service are, are really are one of our only main services we offered. Um, and yeah, we kept, we sold it.
We hit the pavement. We, we started to promote it, get it out there. We hosted our own webinars to tell people about it. And, um, started to pick up and then the demand increase. And like I said, we had our busiest quarter ever in Q4. Um, and, uh, it’s been really sinus he’s take off. It. Wasn’t a guarantee that this would become a thing that people wanted.
So there was a lot of risk involved, but it was really the only choice I could make, uh, was to make this pivot.
Andrew: And now post COVID, your revenues are higher than they were before.
William: uh, for the quarter. Yeah, the, the quarter, our quarterly revenues last year were the highest quarter ever. Uh, still had a really tough fear overall in 2020, um, just with the ma of disruption. Um, but
Andrew: How long did
William: we have a lot of
Andrew: around? How long did it take you to say, well, what quarter did you get the idea to do this? And then when did you finally start to build momentum with it?
William: So we made the pivot immediately. So that was, you know, mid March is when we really leaned into this virtual sketching, but it probably wasn’t until we started to sell it, we started to get it out there. We had a couple of gigs here and there starting to pick up. It really wasn’t until the end of the summer early fall, where it really started to kind of hockey stick upward.
Um, And, uh, yeah, so early fall is when I kind of started to feel a little bit of, like I was coming up for air, uh, revenue is coming back in the door, the team was working, they were excited. And then it was, you know, mid fall and then winter was when it just really exploded. Um, so yeah, I mean, our, if you look at our revenue, it’s the hockey stick, you know, shape from February, March, and then way down March, April, may, June, July, and starts to just kind of up into the right for the rest of the year.
Andrew: What worked best for you for getting new customers?
William: Really invested a lot in, um, PPC this year. Uh, we had done it before, uh, but we’re doing more of it now and we’re, we’re figuring it out. That’s been one good thing about the pandemic is it’s forced us to learn things and figure things out that before we maybe overlooked or took for granted or didn’t think were that big of a deal.
So that’s been one thing is investing more in kind of, uh, ad words and, um, SEO type stuff. So that’s been really good. Um, and then, um, yeah, just kind of getting our marketing out there, you know, producing really good marketing collateral, like, you know, we made that video, it costs money to make that video.
We hired a film crew and all that, um,
Andrew: where you explained this new product.
Andrew: Uh, wow. Okay. I saw that and I liked it.
William: Yeah. So as you know, as our, as our revenues are declining, we’re, we’re, we’re, we’re investing, you know, we’re still pouring into our business, even though revenues are declining. So, um, yeah, just having a really great website, you know, shout out back to WordPress.
Like it’s been, it’s been really good that people are finding us and they’re seeing our material and they’re wanting to reach out. So I would say those two things are probably what’s worked best to get new clients.
Andrew: use right now.
William: Everything from a corporate kickoff meeting to a webinar, to a small group, kind of brainstorm meeting to, um, town hall series, uh, even trade shows. We’re talking to folks right now by doing virtual trade shows, which seems like how’s that going to work, but they’re making it work.
Andrew: but there isn’t any one, one type of person or one type of event that’s doing, especially well for you.
William: We the answer is actually no. So any type of event where people are gathered together or other gathered on zoom are gathered on a video conference, any type of meeting like that, where there’s content discussed, big ideas, important things being worked through the Sketchfab can be there to help document it, to make it more engaging, more exciting, add that wow factor.
Then of course, create that visual deliverable that crystallizes those big ideas.
Andrew: I feel like this is going to be here for forever. This is part of the way that we’re going to work in the future. We’re going to have meetings and we know that we can make them more interesting and I can see how the sketch effect will, will help with that. I actually think that. We’re not as, uh, as people we’re not creative enough in how we’re doing remote meetings, whether it’s group meetings or even one-on-one.
And frankly, we were not that creative before somebody could come to my office and sit and have a conversation, or they could go for coffee or drink or dinner. We would rarely do much more than that. I I’d love to see more being done online. Like even for us, when we get a new customer, imagine I get outgrow, I want to do a follow-up call with them, but I don’t want it to be the standard.
How did it go? Give me the numbers thing. There’s no, there’s no emotional connection there. So they don’t care enough to want to work with me to improve it. I’d love to have some kind of a box that I could send out to him and say, thanks for working with me. Thanks for trying out our ads. It’s in a box for our next meeting, just have it ready and we’ll open it up together and we’ll do a thing together.
Even frankly, if it’s a fricking video game that we’re playing together and talking it through or something, it would be more interesting than here’s your million Zuma the week. And now we’re going to talk about why you should be paying me more. It’s just not, it’s not creative enough. Have you seen any creative stuff in this space yet?
William: Yeah, I think with virtual events, we have to keep in mind that this is still pretty new for people. And there’s a lot of folks out there that are, that are innovating and making, making things happen and introducing exciting things. I encourage all your listeners. If they’re involved in virtual events to really push the limits creatively of what that virtual event can look like.
Um, you know, we’ve even said, if you’re not going to. If you’re not going to hire the sketch effects, still try to incorporate some kind of visualization into your meeting, get people using their hands, get people drawing and sketching. There’s a lot of there’s apps out there where you can draw and sketch and share your screen, uh, collaborate using visuals, um,
Andrew: What are good ads for that? When, when you and I were talking, um, I asked you in a meeting, are people actually seeing the artists work on their screen while they’re talking? And you said, you know what, some apps that. Be more interesting where the meeting organizer could have a producer shoot or turn the camera on the speaker and then switch off from the speaker to the artist’s hands and then to something else.
But you said that can happen very easily with zoom. What are some good apps for you in these types of meetings?
William: Sure. So for the actual drawing, um, we use a program called procreate on an iPad pro um, it’s an amazing drawing tool. Uh, Photoshop also works. There’s a few other, uh, drawing apps. That’s the drawing apps. Um, the actual virtual meeting. Platforms really any, any platform that supports is screen-sharing functionality can be used for this virtual visual note-taking.
Andrew: a good one that you like more than zoom.
William: we’ve worked in, um, I think it’s visible, I think is good. Um, there is a company called that has a really cool, robust virtual event platform where you can have breakout rooms and different, um, different windows going on. Um, There another one that we used to try to remember what it was.
Andrew: What do you like about Visibo?
William: I think that’s the one.
Um, but these, these more substantive, the actual video conferencing platforms, they can allow a little more functionality in terms of which screen you have up at any given time. Um, what people are seeing, uh, people can kind of minimize and maximize screens to their preference. So it’s not just this kind of top-down, here’s how the virtual meeting is going to go, but it gives people a little more control over their own experience.
Um, I believe it has a chat feature. So, you know, you can have people engaging through the chat. Um, you can have set up multiple windows that did that showcase the agenda. Um, Things like that. Um, I’m not an event platform. I’m not a virtual event platform expert. Um, our operations team would probably be able to answer those questions better than I can.
Um, but you know, for, for what we’re doing, any app that has a screen sharing functionality can be used to, uh, share a live artist, um, canvas.
Andrew: Yeah, Isabel. Right now, one of the things that I like about them is that I can actually put the person’s name up and their title and an interesting way here. You and I, and with every zoom meeting I have, I have the person’s name, but not enough contacts. And if it’s a brand new speaker, you want to know who they are.
You want to. I see a little bit more than just their, their name. Um, and it looks like they have a website builder, which I okay. Blah, that everyone has ticket registration or at BLI can do that anywhere else. But I, I feel like the visuals and the activities are, are where the wind is going to be. You know what I should do for.
William: Oh, I was just gonna say, I was gonna say if this virtual meeting thing is going to be here to stay, which I think it will be here to stay. Hopefully we’ll land in some kind of hybrid thing where we’re doing both in-person and virtual, but, but, but what folks need to learn is that they can’t plan to invest.
30% less in a virtual event than they would invest in an in-person event. Uh, you know, people expect quality virtual events. And so using a really great platform investing in, uh, you know, things like the sketch fact or demos, or I’ve even heard of like a virtual, a wine tasting I’ve, I’ve seen, um, Wolfgang pockets doing a virtual chef demonstration where people can cook at home and, and pay attention and all that.
Which is really cool. I think that people need to learn that they can’t just take their normal in-person event, throw it on zoom and spend 70% less than they would have. Otherwise it doesn’t work that way. Or if they, if they do, it’s going to be a pretty unexciting lame event.
Andrew: Yeah. Especially when we’re living in this world every day, it has to stand out and feel a little bit different. I’m thinking about for one-on-one meetings. I don’t know. Do you do sales calls for your team right now for your company?
Andrew: You personally do it still.
William: Uh, I do some of them. Yeah.
Andrew: So imagine one thing, this is such a lane, but first start, but it’s a first start.
What if I could even find somebody on Etsy who makes five different types of cookies and I send the same box to myself and the person I’m meeting with. So at least we could, while we’re talking, we can take a bite of the different cookies. I need something to make it a little bit more interesting. Wine tasting is good, but then you’re limiting yourself to when you can do it, you can’t do it in the latter part of the day.
How about this? If you’re from an interesting place. Like imagine you’re from New Zealand, get the candy from New Zealand to your house and to the guest’s house, ship it out. And let’s just try some interesting new candy.
William: I love it. That’s
William: Yeah, that’s
Andrew: All we’re trying to do is get the attention of the person we’re talking to have them emotionally invested in us enough that if they don’t like the first pitch, They’re willing to listen to others.
All right. The website is for everyone who wants to go check out these designs? It’s the sketch effect.com. And if you’re a creative like William, and you want to know a little bit more about his journey from being a creative, to being a real business owner. And, um, I want to see how you can do it too.
He’s blogging his way through his business and teaching you what he’s learning at his personal website. That’s William C warren.com. And I want to thanks to sponsors who made this interview happen? The first, if you’re trying to put up a new website, do what William and I, and so many others have done use WordPress.
It’s just so easy and it’s robust. It’ll grow with your business. And I think the best place to host WordPress is HostGator. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy to get that low price. And great service that will scale with you. And finally, I like the idea of a calculator. If you’re, if you have a product that has different price points, you want people to figure out for themselves what it is and to see for yourself who the right customers are for you outgrow.
We’ll let you create those calculators quickly and for free. Right now, limited time, go to outgrow.co/mixergy, outgrow.co/mixergy. Thanks, William.
William: thanks, Andrew. This is a lot of fun.